It’s a Saturday evening in Kigali. Everyone attending the wedding has a smile on their face. They are all trying to see what is happening on the stage, where a group of young intore (typically male dancers) perform with grace and power. What’s more interesting is that among these dancers there is a young girl with long hair that falls on her back! It seems everyone is interested in her strong dance moves. Meet Pauline, a 19-year-old Ni Nyampinga from the inkeshagitaramo dance troupe.
Pauline started to dance when she was in senior one at Ruhango Secondary School. In that troupe, she performed a ladies dance known as gushayaya. But when she saw how the boys were dancing and moving their umugara (an artificial headdress like a lion’s mane) in a spectacular way, she loved it. She wondered why no girls in her troupe had ever tried to dance with the boys. It was then that she had the idea to become an Intore - the Kinyarwanda name for male traditional dancers.
The Intore in her troupe talked to her coach about the idea. At first, he was surprised and didn’t pay much attention to the request. Because Pauline wanted to dance with them so badly, she kept asking the coach and he finally allowed her to start practicing.
“I started to practice with the boys. They would teach me, and I got to know it. I was dancing well, and I knew I had to continue. Then our coach supported me by teaching me all the moves. He even asked me to continue practicing,” Pauline said with a smile.
At the beginning, Pauline faced some challenges. Some of the male dancers told her that she would not make it because such Intore dances need strength and power. But she was not discouraged; instead, she was more determined than ever and loved it. Eventually, others started to see her potential, and she gained the support of the other boys in the troupe and her coach who encourage her to practice even more.
When she was ready, her coach made her dance with boys during a school event. Pauline said that she cannot forget that day.
“I was amazed. It was my first time to dance as an Intore in public. I was pleased to see how all the students stood up to say my name and cheer me on.”
One day during a parent meeting, her troupe was requested to dance. It was the first time that her parents saw her dancing as an Intore. Before then, they didn’t even know she was doing it. After the meeting, they asked her how the idea came and she said that she just loved it. They were very supportive: “You are making it, keep it up.” “I was glad to see my parents give me the go ahead without doubt,” Pauline told us.
Today, Pauline is one of the professional dancers in the Inkeshagitaramo Dance Troupe. Her fellow dancers say they are glad to have her.
“Pauline is passionate and she learns fast. Sometimes she reminds us of moves we had forgotten,” said dancer Clovis.
Pauline’s coach, Gatoya, said they are proud to have Pauline as a girl who can perform moves usually only done by boys. “Pauline makes our troupe incredibly unique. She is really a good example of a powerful girl.”
When Habimana, the head teacher at Pauline’s school, saw her dancing with the boys, it revealed to him another side of this amazing girl. “I was surprised,” he said. “It showed me that Pauline is a committed girl who can dare to do new things.”Habimana added that Pauline dancing added creativity to their dance troupe: “People really like it,” he said.
Pauline says that dancing as an Intore has been incredibly beneficial. She is now sponsored to attend school, and her confidence has grown so much so that she no longer feels shy in front of people.
“When I started dancing, I couldn’t be shy because everyone was looking at me. This also helped me to realise my other talents. I recently took part in an athletic competition and won!”
The uniqueness of Pauline’s troupe is evident when everyone is surprised to see her dancing.
One of the wedding attendees, Betty, said: “I am very surprised to see that girl. She has strong moves. I would like to know where she practices and to take my own child there because I really liked it. This is something we should celebrate because it is fantastic to see the Rwandan culture growing so much.”
Pauline’s inspirational story shows what can be achieved when individuals act on their passions and are supported by those around them. If you have a passion, why not be brave like Pauline and strive to reach your goals? As wedding guest Betty told us: “Today, anyone can do what they love. There are no limits!”